Though as two neighboring regions, Nepal and Tibet have tremendous altitude differences. The natural national border between Nepal and Tibet, China, and the Himalayas serve as the southern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, marking the end of the highland. The distance between Kathmandu, the Nepali capital to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, China is around 1,000 kilometers.
Getting an idea of the altitude data along Nepal to Tibet Road is essential for a combining trip of these two neighboring tourist destinations, no matter if you intend to take a flight, travel overland by road or take a train in the future. The altitude issue is especially important in the Tibetan part, where the average altitude is above 4,000 meters and nearly all newcomers need a couple of days to acclimatize before starting off their Tibet trip to attractions with higher elevations.
Along the route from Kathmandu to Lhasa or the other way around, the altitude situation in Tibet is very stable, varying from 3,000 meters to 5,000 meters in most regions; while in Nepal you can find a more distinctive trend of descending from the Gyirong Port to Kathmandu. The major change of altitude lies in the section, from Gyirong County to Gyirong Town and a little further to Gyirong Port.
Kathmandu: 1,350 meters (27°N and 85°E)
Gyirong Port: 1,800 meters (28°16N and 85°22E)
Gyirong Town: 2,600 meters (28°23N and 85°19E)
Gyirong County: 4,200 meters (28°51′N and 85°17E)
Ganggar Town/Old Tingri: 4,300 meters (27°80′N and 86°20E)
Everest Base Camp: 5,150 meters (28°N and 86°51E)
Shelkar Town/New Tingri: 4,330 meters (28°39′N and 87°07E)
Lhatse County: 4,050 meters (29°11′N and 88°05E)
Shigatse: 3,845 meters (29°27′N and 88°88E)
Gyantse: 3,977 meters (29°27′N and 88°88E)
Yamdrok Lake: 4,441 meters (28°57′N and 89°38E)
Lhasa: 3,650 meters (29°39′N and 91°07E)
On Nepali Side:
Altitude range: 1,350 meters to 1,800 meters; The road between Kathmandu and the Rasuwa Gadhi-Gyirong bilateral border is around 120 kilometers. This section belongs to the subtropical climate zone. With ample rainfall in this region, luxuriant evergreen forests and river valleys adorn the mountain range. Although the road is in very poor condition, which is mainly comprised of dirt roads and can be extremely muddy after heavy rain during the monsoon season (from June to September in Nepal), the beauty of nature may compensate for the grueling journey.
On Tibetan Side:
Altitude range: 1,800 meters to 2,600 meters: It is 23 kilometers from Gyirong Port to Gyirong Town. This section is under the influence of the temperate climate zone. Gyirong Valley of the Himalayas will keep you accompanied all the way to the town. The road is in much better condition now, well paved and wider than the border region in Nepali side.
Altitude range: 2,600 meters to 4,200 meters: This 70-kilometer-long route links Gyirong Town and Gyirong County, and a steep ascent of altitude will be seen, which can be very challenging and physically demanding. If you’re on a bike tour from Tibet to Nepal, then taking the downhill glide along this section will be an amazing journey because of the pretty scenery. Some of which includes green mountains, clear blue skies, deep and extended river valleys, and thin mist afar at the mountain top along with fresh air. If you’re doing the reverse direction of the bike tour, the situation is otherwise.
Altitude range: 4,200 meters to 5,150 meters: From Gyirong County (4,200 meters), you can head directly to Lhasa, via Lhatse and Shigatse. However, many would take a detour to visit Mount Everest at Everest Base Camp (5,150 meters), via Gangga Town / Old Tingri (4,300 meters). The landscape in this area is under the influence of continental climate, where it is dry and dominant with semi-arid steppes.
Tibet-side Everest Base Camp
Altitude range: 5,150 meters to 4,300 meters: After visiting Mount Everest, you can now head north to Lhatse for a break and may stay overnight here.
Altitude range: 4,300 meters to 3,845 meters: You can now take the Friendship Highway, also named as China Nepal Highway (G318) to get to Shigatse directly. As the second-largest city of Tibet, Shigatse provides good accommodations and fine dining. You can extend your exploration to the heroic town Gyantse and the sacred lake Yamdrok with a day trip before getting to Lhasa. This is also the golden route of the Tibet tour, which is arranged by many local travel agencies.
Altitude range: 3,845 meters to 3,650 meters: If you opt to drive directly to Lhasa from Shigatse, you’ll have the companionship of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, which is in parallel with the Shigatse-Lhasa section of G318. The distance of this section is around 245 kilometers. Taking a train to Lhasa from Shigatse is also available.